Thursday, December 24, 2009

Should EPA Regulate CO2 as a Criteria Pollutant?

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, right, wants Congress to establish the rules for regulating carbon dioxide (CO2). Although EPA has ruled that CO2 is a danger to human health and welfare[Endangerment Finding], the agency does not want to regulate the gas as a Criteria Pollutant. EPA's current plan is to regulate CO2 under the New Source Review Program instead of as a Criteria Pollutant under National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The Obama administration and EPA would prefer for Congress to pass legislation to specifically address how CO2 should be regulated. It is generally agreed that the current Clean Air Act does not have the mechanism to adequately address regulating CO2.

Unfortunately, in addition to litigation from industry to prevent regulation at all, EPA is also being challenged to treat CO2 as a Criteria Pollutant, which would then put the agency in the position of regulating most stationary and mobile sources, including airplanes, trucks and trains and the fuels that propel them. Such a plan would be ineffective. For instance, EPA setting a standard of 350 parts per million in America makes no sense because carbon dioxide is created, dispersed and spreads around the world.

The Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, requires EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (40 CFR part 50) for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act established two types of national air quality standards. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against decreased visibility, damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.

The EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six principal pollutants, which are called "criteria" pollutants: Ozone, Particulate Matter, Lead, Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides and Carbon Monoxide.

At the 'Endangerment Finding' announcement [related to light trucks], EPA indicated that it would soon finalize a new "Tailoring Rule" that will set a greenhouse-gas-emissions threshold for regulators at 25,000 tons a year. The rule proposes new thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that define when Clean Air Act (CAA) permits under the New Source Review (NSR) and Title V operating permits programs would be required for new or existing industrial facilities. Also, under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) portion of NSR, which is a permit program designed to minimize emissions from new sources and existing sources making major modifications, EPA is proposing a major stationary source threshold of 25,000 tpy CO2 and a significance level between 10,000 and 25,000 tpy CO2.

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